A Constitutional and Legal History of England

By Goldwin Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X
Barons, Courts, and Parliament

THE BARONS: TRIUMPH AND DISASTER

THREE kings ruled in England in the fourteenth century: Edward II ( 1307-1327), Edward III ( 1327-1377), and Richard II ( 1377- 1399). Their reigns were disturbed by domestic broils and foreign battles. The period under review in this chapter was the century when the Hundred Years' War with France brought a harvest of victory to England at Sluys, Crécy and Poitiers. This was the century that also brought defeat in the darkness of the desperate years when Edward III was old and dying and, later, when Richard II was king and England's energy and exchequer were low. This was the century of the Black Death of 1349, of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, of new quarrels with the church, of rising trade and commerce, of John Wycliffe and Geoffrey Chaucer, of the Revolution of 1399.

Edward II was thoroughly weak, manifestly unable to grasp and hold the reins of power. The restless baronage, remembering their golden hours when Henry III was king, were anxious to extend their strength once more. To baronial ambition was added annoyance as Edward II dismissed several of his father's ministers and replaced them by personal favorites, men whom the barons regarded as objectionable upstarts devoid of political knowledge or skill. After many quarrels with the king the barons came to Parliament in 1310 with armed retainers and compelled Edward II to submit to their control. This event, this decline once more into conflict, marks the first phase of the constant agitation for the reform of the royal administration characteristic of the fourteenth century.

A reform commission of twenty-one lay and ecclesiastical magnates, the "Lords Ordainers," forced Edward to accept their rules for the

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